Creating Captions in InDesign

How do you create captions in InDesign? Adobe InDesign provides several choices for creating captions automatically. You have probably used one or two of the methods with varying amounts of success. The options for automation discussed below depend on image files having the desired metadata established as part of its File Info. This can be done using Bridge or in Photoshop. The advantage of using Bridge is that information that is the same can be applied to any number of files at one time. In Photoshop, information is entered for each file separately (File > File Info). Much of this information may already be set by the photographer. Additionally, templates can be used to automate some of the information such as Author and Copyright information. With the information established, your workflow can use any one or all of the following.

Caption Variable

A caption variable is created using Caption Setup (Object menu > Captions > Caption Setup). The settings are self-explanatory and include the ability to establish the item’s layer when created.

Caption Setup dialog

Once you have established the caption settings, you have several options for creating captions automatically. You can add them to an existing image or create the caption as part of the image placement.

With an existing image selected, you have the option of creating either a Static Caption or Live Caption. Select either Generate Live Caption or Generate Static Caption from the Captions menu item. Establish a keyboard shortcut for this menu item to make this even more automated.

Captions menu item

Live Captions

The cool thing about a Live Caption is that when its text frame is dragged adjacent to another image the text picks up the values from the new image. You can even option+shift drag the text frame adjacent to another image to create a new frame with its content updated. Of course, if the new image does not have the metadata established as part of its File Info, you will get <No data from link> in place of the desired caption text.

Live Caption Limitation

The big drawback in using a Caption Variable arises when using Generate Live Caption. If the caption text exceeds the length of the intended text box. The text becomes scrunched to fit it within the frame. And, because the text is a variable, there is not much you can do about it with the exception of converting to a Static Caption. To convert to a Static Caption, select the Live Caption text frame and choose Object > Captions > Convert to Static Caption.

Create Static Captions When Placing Image

With Caption Setup established for the document or application, you can create static captions as part of placing images. Inside the Place dialog, you need to make sure Create Static Captions is checked.

Place Dialog

When you place the image, the text cursor is populated with the metadata from the image. As you draw the caption frame, the frame updates as defined by your Caption Setup. Sadly, the text comes in styled with the one style. If there is more than one paragraph involved for your caption, you will need to apply styling. (See Styling Captions below.)

On the plus side, you can place a number of image files at one time and add caption frames as each image is placed. For the most part, this works fairly well.

Using Text Variables

Text variables offer a second option for automatically creating captions. Of course, text variables can be used for any number of other situations. With the ability to apply any number of text variables to a text frame you can use text variables for more than just adding credits and captions to an image. If you are not using text variables already, you need to get familiar with this feature in InDesign.

For example, start by defining the text variables needed for your particular situation. This is done in the InDesign’s Text menu (Text > Text Variables > Define). Here you will see there are a number of variables defined by default. For a caption, choose Metadata Caption and select the metadata to use from the list presented.

 New Text Variable 

Once you have created your variables, create a text frame and insert the variables. From the Type menu choose Text Variables > Text Variables > Insert Text Variable and select the variable from the list presented.

Styling Captions

One small limitation with the caption variable is the fact that only one paragraph style is applied to the text in the frame. You can get around this by using an object style. If more than one paragraph is involved, set up next style properties for the paragraph styles. For the object style, use the Paragraph Styles option.

Setting Paragraph Style Option

Applying the style to the frame will update the text for you. For a caption frame having both credit and caption, set the Caption Setup to use the Credit paragraph style. This has the Caption style selected as its next style. Then for Object Style Options for the Caption object style, the Credit paragraph style is assigned to the object style with Apply Next Style checked.

 Caption Created and Styled

Have It Your Way: Use a Script

For those situations where caption content and styling is consistent, using a script can make the process seamless. If no metadata is found in the image, the script can be written to ignore creating the caption frame. If some images have both credit and caption while others do not, the script can place and style as needed. Additionally, the frame can be created precisely below or to the side of the image and adjust the bottom of the frame to fit. We will explore such a script in the next blog installment.